Opinion  :: Columns  :: Jottings from Johannesburg


A sign of SA’s inner turmoil
Peter van der Merwe
Published: 23-NOV-05

THE SKELETONS are rattling in South Africa’s intelligence community, with South Africa’s top three spooks being suspended by Intelligence Minister Ronnie Kasrils in a move which goes to the very heart of the succession and leadership crisis currently raging within the ruling ANC.

According to Minister Kasrils, the three – National Intelligence Agency director general Billy Masethla, his deputy Gibson Njenje and NIA general manager Bob Mhlanga – had spied on top businessman (and ANC bigwig) Saki Macozoma “without proper justifi cation”. What?

Intelligence operatives spying on people? Now there’s a turnup for the books. And here I was thinking that spying on people without their knowledge was, in fact, what intelligence bodies do (apart from wearing silly dark glasses and feeling selfimportant, that is).Kasrils’ suggestion that he only suspended the trio to promote clean government and good democracy is patently ludicrous.

It was a calculated political move that refl ects the deep divisions within the highest echelons of the country’s leadership.At another level, the decision also underlined the seething tensions within the country’s intelligence community, which had become clear to all and sundry at a recent judicial commission. There, what was supposed to be a probe into the future of the elite crimefi ghting unit, the Scorpions, degenerated into a mudslinging match between the various lawenforcement bodies. It was not an edifying sight.

Kasrils and Masetlha’s relationship was already fraught. They clashed publicly after Masethla’s testimony at the aforementioned commission, which included the accusation that the Scorpions were agents for foreign intelligence. Instead of sorting out their differences behind closed doors, though, Kasrils openly rebuked his most senior offi cial, leaving observers in little doubt that the two had little time for each other. Kasrils was simply looking for an excuse to get rid of Masetlha, and the Macozoma case provided it.

Of course, Kasrils stoutly denies that he had his knife out for Masethla, and refutes the notion that the suspensions were linked to the broader political intrigue raging within the ruling party. Problem is, not many people believe him. A cursory sketch of the background to the furore shows exactly why not.To start with, the unfairly spiedupon Macozoma is one of the heavyweights in President Thabo Mbeki’s inner circle. He is also a member of the ruling ANC’s decisionmaking National Executive Committee, a body which will have a major say in who becomes South Africa’s next leader in 2009. Macozoma is also close to former National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) boss

Bulelani Ngcuka, who was at the helm of the NPA when Schabir Shaik, the friend and former financial adviser of axed deputy president Jacob Zuma, was prosecuted for corruption relating to the country’s illfated multibillion dollar arms deal. Zuma was subsequently relieved of his duties by Mbeki and charged with corruption himself.

However, the ANC’s ruling partners, the Congress of SA Trade Unions and the SA Communist Party, as well as the ANC Youth League, say this is no more than a smokescreen to foil the populist Zuma’s chances of becoming the next president. Not surprisingly, Masethla is said to be a Zuma confidante – so Minister Kasrils (an Mbeki man) will excuse those who don’t quite buy his wide-eyed protestations that he is simply ensuring that there is no abuse or unprofessional behaviour on the part of members of our intelligence services. Perhaps the most telling line in Kasrils’ explanation in the Mail & Guardian was this: “Members of the intelligence services are accountable to their political chiefs.” That, Mr Kasrils, is overwhelmingly clear.

Quite how it equates to the notion of being politically nonpartisan, as one would have naively hoped for, is less obvious. Of course, this crisis in the intelligence ranks is a sideshow to, as well as a refl ection of, the main farce playing itself out on the country’s political stage, where President Mbeki has been trying frantically in recent weeks to quash a growing rebellion from within the very ranks of his own party.

While dissident voices are an important part of democracy, Messrs Mbeki and Zuma, and their respective cohorts should put down their handbags and sort this messy debacle out in a manner which befi ts their status. This is no time for murky undercurrents and spindoctoring.

Now, more than ever, the country’s young democracy needs openness, transparency, maturity and stability.

Mbeki must descend from his ivory tower and provide leadership. Zuma must rise above the rabblerousing and provide an example.

The alternative – like a government led by the opposition Democratic Alliance, for example is too ghastly to contemplate.

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